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June 28, 2022

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State DOL issued most undercover licenses to CIA

The Columbian

OLYMPIA — A Washington Department of Licensing program that supplied fake licenses for undercover officers issued the most fake IDs to the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Department, the Kitsap Sun reported.

In response to a public records request, the department last month showed the newspaper and public radio’s Northwest News Network a list of agencies issued confidential licenses since 2007. The CIA topped the list with 288, followed by the Defense Department with 198, then followed mostly by police agencies in the state, such as the Kitsap County sheriff’s office and Bremerton Police Department, the Kitsap Sun reported Monday.

But, when the department released the list Friday by email, it lumped together all federal law enforcement agencies without naming them, saying that’s classified.

“A lot of information that was compiled should not have been discussed,” DOL spokesman Brad Benfield said, citing a nondisclosure agreement some DOL employees signed with the U.S. government.

“We simply can’t talk about it anymore without further putting ourselves in legal jeopardy,” Benfield said Monday.

The category of all federal law enforcement agencies accounted for 595 licenses, or 53 percent of the 1,121 issued.

The CIA refused to comment to the Kitsap Sun. The Defense Department would “not characterize or otherwise discuss our participation in this program,” spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Crosson said.

“Naval Criminal Investigative Service does use a few confidential licenses for undercover purposes,” NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said. “Beyond that it would be counterproductive for us to comment in any greater detail.”

The program was secret until the paper’s public records request prompted the Department of Licensing to request legislation to protect officers from disclosure and setting out guidelines.

The bill quietly passed the Senate but raised questions in the House’s Transportation Committee where Republican lawmakers Matt Shea, of Spokane Valley, and Jason Overstreet, of Lynden, were surprised to find no one knows for sure when or why the program began.

“The first and obvious question is why (has) the CIA asked for and received 288 Washington state identifications,” Overstreet said. “It seems like a big number.”

He has sought answers but hasn’t been able to get them.

“I think that the public demands a response,” Overstreet said. “Not classified information — that would compromise officer safety. But I think the DOL owes the public a response as to why they’ve been operating this program the way they have, outside of state law.”

Overstreet and Shea have amended legislation to add safeguards. They said fake IDS should be used only for the duration of an undercover officer’s covert assignment.

The bill now awaits a vote on the House floor.

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